Tag Archives: Chicago

On My Itinerary: we’re driving to Chicago

Hark. We’re driving to Chicago. In a car. From Baltimore. I don’t know why this is such news, considering I did this route many times between St. Louis – New York during college, and Chicago- New York during graduate school, and even Los Angeles- New York when I moved out west. But perhaps now that I’m no longer 19 years old, the concept of driving all night (“ROADTRIP!!!”) is no longer as exciting. I mean, what’s wrong with an airplane? I’ll tell you what’s wrong with an airplane: it would have cost us more than $700 total to jet to Chicago for the weekend for Jon’s friend’s wedding, thanks to airline mergers, fewer seats, higher prices, overbooking, summer vacation and the recession.

So we’re driving. (Also because the in-laws really want us to take things from the basement to our house.) The trip is slightly shorter than if we left from New York (12 hours), which is good, and cuts down the time winding through Pennsylvania significantly, which is also good, but we’ll still have to contend with the long stretch of Ohio, which is bad and boring. I’m contemplating making a few stops in Amish country, and maybe even in Cleveland after seeing the hilarious video about the city which was so funny, I’ve had to post it here.

However, I have learned quite a bit about driving long distances, which I’m happy to share here.

1. Check your oil, tire pressure, windshield wiper fluid, brakes, battery, etc. It helps to have your car in good shape before you head out.

2. Use RainX on your windshield. Especially in winter. The directions say to “squeeze a small amount on a cloth and wipe” but the actual directions should be “squeeze large amount all over windshield, then use a lot of paper towels to rub it until no more streaks show.”

3. If you’re packing a full trunk, make sure you can access your spare easily. My friend was stuck unloading her truck in the middle of an Arizona desert and putting her laundry, fax machine, bedding and pillows on the highway after a flat.

4. Keep a phone charger in your car.

5. Don’t play the see-how-far-your-car-can-drive after the gas light goes on. Fill up before it reaches the E.

6. Have kids in the car? Read this blog entry I wrote a couple weeks ago.

7. Keep Wet-Ones and napkins/ paper towels within reach. And a plastic bag to act as a trash collector.

8.  Switch drivers often. Drink coffee. Eat beef jerky and carrots. Sing songs together. Contemplate short-term and long-term life plans. Listen to weird religious talk radio in other states. It’s an educational and cultural way to learn about our country.

More importantly, we’re headed to KENYA and TANZANIA the weekend after, so stayed tuned for the more exciting updates on that (I assure you, they will be more interesting than the blog entry about the cheese we try in Dutch Pennsylvania).

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In the Suitcase: Last-minute travel

Jon and I are in the process of moving to Baltimore, which means that our current place in DC is a mess, our new place in Baltimore is a mess, and then there’s turkey to be had in Chicago. So, after several late-nights of painting, cleaning, packing and panicking, we sadly decided to skip the roadtrip to Chicago and leave me behind to do more of the painting, cleaning, packing but without the panicking while Jon goes back to visit with his family. So, after some savvy Internet hunting, I stuck Jon on a Southwest flight to Milwaukee (hour drive from his parents’ place) and departure out of Midway, for $340.

It’s a little higher than we’d ordinarily spend for travel to Chicago, but it is a far difference from the $450 ticket I paid in 1994 from St. Louis to New York one Thanksgiving, because I didn’t book far enough in advance. Yes, that’s 15 years ago. Airline tickets haven’t increased a whole lot since I was jetting back and forth around college, but it is more difficult to fly, and I used to get away with bringing four carry-ons and all my liquids.

So, if you’re still wistfully thinking of visiting family or friends, it’s not too late. There is a “cornucopia” of options! (forgive my themed reference)

1. Check all the search engines, not just one. Kayak has a lot of options, but it doesn’t display Southwest flights. Check Southwest separately.

2. Be open to obscure airports (like Milwaukee). Think like a driver in Los Angeles (i.e. it could take an hour to drive 10 blocks). In holiday traffic, driving from O’Hare could take even longer than driving from Milwaukee, so it wouldn’t be so bad to choose another airport.

3. Try various one-way options. We booked a one-way from Baltimore to Milwaukee, then out of Midway back to Baltimore by buying two separate tickets. You can also try different airlines. Shop around, but don’t linger too long because the flights will continue to rise quickly.

4. If you’re willing to fly on Thanksgiving, do that and plan to arrive before the dinner starts. Also departing on Saturday instead of Sunday reduces your fare. Yes, you miss a day of visiting, but it’s better than not visiting at all, which was your original plan until now.

5. Be willing to wake up at the crack of dawn to catch that 6:30am flight. It’s annoying, but it’s less expensive, and you’ll make up the lost sleep during the flight anyway.

5. Consider Priceline. You set a price limit and bid on a mystery flight. Be aware that you won’t know your travel times until after you purchase your ticket, and they set the hours between 6am to 10pm. If you are traveling on Thanksgiving day, know that Priceline might send you on a flight during dinner time and you’ll miss everything.

5. Save money on peripherals: Take public transportation to/ from airport. It’s cheaper, it bypasses traffic, and you won’t spend extra dollars on parking. Pack light (avoid baggage fees) and don’t eat anything, so you’ll be ready for the feast!

Happy Thanksgiving and safe travels!

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My Travel Hats on brief hiatus!

Apologies Travel Hats fans! I have many valid excuses for my brief hiatus this week. Please stay tuned until next week to hear about some adventures in partial cross-country travel as Jon and I embark on a roadtrip to Chicago for Thanksgiving BY CAR! (This is a well-traveled route for me that I did several times during college and graduate school, so I can’t say there will be many exciting moments – but there will be some).

Remember: pack light, arrive early, and enjoy! See you next week!


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Getting Lost In: your suburbs

We headed back to Chicago to visit Jon’s family for the Jewish holidays. Jon’s family lives in the great suburbs as featured in John Hughes’ movies, and sure, the suburbs of America are not necessarily as exciting as the cities, but, as I will be reporting, it doesn’t matter.

 In fact, as a traveler, I suddenly developed a new appreciation for the suburbs. Here in Highland Park, Ill., the most recent buzz about town is that the house in the popular 80’s John Hughes movie, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off , in



which Ferris’ friend Cameron lives, is up for sale (for a mere $2.3 mil) and may be torn down if nobody is buying. I said you could only buy it if you had the right cars to put in that famous garage; after all, nobody wants to see my Honda Civic, dents and all (none of which are my fault except for the fact that I park my car on the streets of DC), parked in that garage.

John Hughes managed to capture the American suburban complex so excellently in his movies. Nowhere else in the world do we have such an existence: spacious houses and lawns, driveways, kids riding bikes on the streets, even houses for our cars (aka garages)! We’re not in the countryside, but we’re not in the city. It’s really quite a beautiful collective to see, if city people ever made their way up there to check it out. People like to hate the suburbs, and I, too, will gag at the brand-new shopping complexes filled with massed-produced chains and the matching cars and the need to fancy the Joneses.  I admit, I had a regurgitative reaction to the suburbs while shopping at Trader Joe’s in Westchester County. I saw several young couples like me, once upon a time were regular Manhattan socialites, now wearing stained tank tops and putting on some weight and gray hairs and shopping at the strip mall and just thought – oh god, the suburbs is where married couples come to get old and wrinkled. (Which is usually the case, but it doesn’t have to be that bad).

But you don’t have to live there. However, you can enjoy a wonderful weekend there. And take your camera to capture what’s really going on, even if it’s just your in-laws’ house and their dogs. Which I did, without feeling the need to rush into “the city” to feel like I saw something this weekend in the greater Chicago area. Here I was, jogging along Highland Park, on the bike trail following the Metra train tracks and then into the Chicago Botanic Garden  where a path loops around lakes and streams and trees and greenery and flowers. It reminded me of the rustic wooded path in Westchester, along the Bronx River, where I used to take my bike and where two high school friends got arrested for canoeing down (it’s really more like a stream than a river). It also reminded me of the Capital Crescent trail in Washington, D.C. which spans into Maryland. In a city, it’s a luxury to have space for your bike without having it stolen, and to be able to take that bike out on the paths into the suburbs.



And I really do enjoy all the foliage, the cherry blossoms and magnolias in springtime, and looking at people’s cute gardens out front on their lawns. At Christmas, it’s really fun to see all the houses lit up and decorated with random snowmen sitting out front. This is American life, our suburbs. You don’t have to travel far (unless you’re British and reading my blog) to have a vacation like this in “this economy.”

So I encourage all of you: dust off your bikes or put on your sneakers (tennis shoes, gym shoes, kicks, or whatever it is you call the in your part of the country) grab a camera and take an active weekend vacation to check our your nearby suburbs.  Take a leafy drive and gaze at the big houses, or bike up a bike path (found on google), or hop on the commuter train to your destination. In the end, you can still sleep in your own bed. Happy travels!

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Getting Lost In: [suburban] Chicago!

The Breakfast Club

The Breakfast Club

Ah, Chicago. What I find most interesting about Chicago is not the city itself, but how connected with its suburbs I’ve become. My first taste of Chicago was a t-shirt from my cousin who went to Northwestern, but he spent most of his time outside it, in Evanston. Then I watched all the movies by John Hughes which were about suburban Chicago kids, with later additions like Home Alone and Mean Girls. Then in college I met a bunch of Proud Chicagoans who, upon finding out I was from the New York area, would argue why they were cooler because they were “from Chicago” and I was “from New York”. I would then find out none of these “Chicagoans” were actually from the city either, which made us basically the same – just city wannabes from the suburbs. (Interestingly enough, the true Chicagoans, raised in the city proper, were less vocal if at all). Some of them came as far as Zion, Ill. which is basically in Wisconsin, and those people were the proudest and loudest of them all.

I, myself, spent a year in Chicago (Lincoln Park, specifically) studying at Northwestern to become a TV news correspondent, but like that idea, my memory of Chicago has somewhat faded. Then I married a Chicago suburbanite. And now that Jon and I have spent quite some time recently in the northern suburbs of Chicago, it only seemed proper to dedicate an entry to the greater metropolitan area famous for breakfast clubs, sixteen candles, adventurous babysitting or being pretty – in pink. If you’ve got a day off, like Ferris Bueller did, here’s a way to spend it. And now I’ll stop being clever with the movie titles.

(Note: I realize that a large percentage of this readership is from the northern Chicago suburbs, thanks to a certain enthusiastic reader/ mother-in-law. So please, feel free to comment or add your own suggestions!)

Ravinia.  Every city has a summer music festival, and Chicago’s is Ravinia (www.ravinia.com), located in Highland Park. Much like L.A.’s Hollywood Bowl, or D.C.’s Wolf Trap, or Boston’s western getaway to Tanglewood, the locals tote their cute wicker picnic baskets, candles, fold-up tables, pretentious cheeses and bottles of wine to sit under the stars and listen to touring artists. This year’s line-up includes the several appearances of the Chicago Symphony, the Gipsy Kings, the BoDeans, Pink Martini, the Beach Boy(s) (I think only one is still alive) and my favorite: Diana Krall. Since Chicago’s rush hour traffic is one of the worst I’ve ever sat through – even next to Los Angeles – there’s a Metra train that stops directly at Ravinia. Take it.

Windsurfing on Lake Michigan: People are so fixated on how ridiculously cold it is in winter in Chicago that they forget to tell you how ridiculously hot and humid it is in summer. I sweated through ten t-shirts a day that summer just by standing outside waiting for a bus. Finally, I gave up on taking eight showers a day and headed to The Northwestern Sailing Center on Northwestern University’s campus to learn how to windsurf. If I wasn’t cooling off by catching breezes off the lake, I did by falling into the water. There are also sailing and catamaran classes available at the center. 2311 Campus Drive, Evanston.

Chicago Botanic Gardens. As beautiful as the architecture and lake are downtown, everyone needs some greenery and pretty flowers, or a great place for engagement photos and that kind of thing. The Chicago Botanic Gardens, located in Glencoe (nearish Ravinia) are a good getaway and a popular wedding spot. Other than that, I don’t know much more since I’ve never been there, although it’s a future destination plan. 1000 Lake Cook Road, Glencoe.

Norton’s Restaurant. I have to mention this Highland Park hotspot because it is always packed and because I never knew there were really places where everyone actually knows your name – I thought it was just a song. Its jolly, reliable neighborhood atmosphere with its classic American menu is a like quintissential American restaurant found only in a comedic movie, except it actually exists.  My in-laws play characters in this movie restaurant in that they’re such regulars that the owners were even invited to our wedding. It’s also great for families and large groups, and the burgers and steaks are as tried-and-true as any Midwestern steak joint should be. I also like their logo because it has a hat, too. 1905 Sheridan Road, Highland Park.

Charlie Beinlich’s Food & Tap: This bar/ burger joint is Jon’s insistence, and he does have a holey t-shirt with this logo on it, so I will let him describe. JON: “Well, uh, it’s more of a bar than anything. There’s no menu. The menu is up on a wall. The burgers are incredible. They, like, melt in your mouth. Uh, it’s kind of dark in there, like a neighborhood bar.” ME: “You’ve just made this place sound like a dark bar with no menus and a great burger.” JON: “Well, that’s what it is. It’s a very unique burger.” ME: “Why is it unique?” JON: “Because of how it melts in your mouth. It’s soooo yummy. Where is the peanut butter?”  To get more specifics about what Jon’s talking about, you’ll have to go there yourself.  290 Skokie Blvd., Northbrook.

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